Gerald Almy: Bolder tactics pay off for toms
When seeking out early-season turkeys, I’m a firm believer in the subtle, low-key approach to calling. But when a few weeks go by and you still haven’t lured in a tom with soft calling, it may be time to shake things up a bit and get bolder.
Try something novel. Break the traditional turkey hunting rules and be creative. After all, spring season only lasts a month or two. Before you realize it, gobbler hunting will be history until next year.
Float calling is one of a variety of unique tactics you can use for difficult, call-wary toms. One hunter sets up as close as possible to a gobbling bird while the second hunter stays back behind him — but not in the usual sedentary way. This hunter moves like a real hen would, calling to the bird and changing his location as necessary to steer it towards the hunter up front.
The tactic can also be used by a single hunter. When you elicit a gobble, move parallel to the bird, stopping to call from different locations. When you can tell from the tom’s calls that he’s left his original position and is coming your way, hunker back against the nearest tree. Alternately, simply kneel or flatten on your belly if necessary and prepare to shoot.
Another tactic for tough conditions I often use is the cutt-and-run technique. Sometimes soft, sweet yelps and gentle clucks just won’t do it. The birds have heard those calls time and again. Instead, turn to the aggressive cutt, a fast, sharp-toned series of excited clucks, sometimes topped off with a few yelps at the end. This is often the best way to draw a response from a quiet gobbler after the season’s been open for a while.
Try this call in conjunction with a fast-paced coverage of ground in big country such as the George Washington National Forest here in the Shenandoah Valley. Cutt loudly from a ridge, wait, and then cutt again. After a few minutes, move quickly to another spot, covering lots of territory to locate that one bird that might be eager to come in. Public land is the perfect place to try this tactic — you have lots of habitat to roam and hunting pressure usually drops off dramatically after the first week in these areas.
I also like to use shock calls to stir things up when gobbling activity is slow. Lots of hunters use fake owl calls at dawn, but few hunters use locators in late morning to incite an instinctive response from toms. Try crow, hawk or woodpecker calls blown loudly from ridges or in hollows. After you get a tom to sound off and reveal his location, move in tight and use hen calls.
What if you draw a response from cutting or shock calling, but the tom won’t come in because he’s accompanied by hens? I encountered this situation during a recent hunt in Shenandoah County. Instead of trying to draw in the gobbler, I switched tactics and called meekly to the hens.
By mimicking exactly what the oldest female in the group sounded like, I enticed her in — along with several other hens and a handsome gobbler that I bagged with my 12 gauge side-by-side. This tactic has also worked many times for me in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska on Merriams turkeys and in Texas and Oklahoma on Rio Grandes. If the tom won’t cooperate, call the hen. Chances are good he’ll follow her in.
Getting aggressive can sometimes mean breaking with tradition. Turkey hunting lore says not to try to call a bird downhill, but I’ve ignored this bit of wisdom on tough late-season birds and had it work several times. It’s a particularly good tactic in breezy conditions when toms may want to move to low elevation areas to escape the worst breezes on the ridges.
The fighting purr is another good call to turn to when the usual yelps and clucks don’t produce. I’ve also had luck using the kee-kee run in spring, though it’s generally considered a fall vocalization.
Patience and caution are the rules most hunters go by. And for most spring turkey hunting that’s the best approach. But if things are getting tough and you can’t seem to get within range of a mature tom, it may be time to break the rules and get aggressive.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.